CHICAGO, Ill. - Josh Miller did his part as starting quarterback until an injury sideline him in the third quarter.
Then later the ‘Roommate Connection - David Yoder to Clayton Smith' did its part in the fourth quarter.
Defense did its part the whole game with Allen Richardson, Devon Rush, Kory Stamps, and Zach Bruce making the biggest of many big plays.
That's how the first Saint Francis (Ind.) knocked off NAIA top-ranked St. Xavier (Ill.) 25-13 on Saturday night spoiling the home team homecoming celebration before more than 3,000 fans under a clear, cool moon-lit sky.
Must be something about USF and night games. The 10th-ranked USF Cougars improved to 8-0 in night contests. More importantly USF improved to 2-0 in Mid-States Football Association Mideast League competition. The Cougars are 4-1 overall after halting a four-game losing streak to SXU and heading into a bye week before continuing their run through a road gauntlet that at the start included No. 1 SXU, No. 2 Marian (Ind.) (Oct. 13) and No. 7 William Penn (Iowa)(Oct. 20).
Yoder to Smith was perhaps the crucial play of the game relieving some pressure from USF's physically taxed, but none-the-less determined defense. It turned into a 23-yard touchdown, Smith's first at any level of football, on a daring fourth and 2 from the SXU 23-yard line with 11:58 to play in the fourth quarter.
It was the only USF TD in the second half, but that was all the USF defense needed to catch its collective breath and hold the high-scoring SXU Cougars offense to two second half field goals. SXU has averaged 48.6 points per game winning its last 25 games at home since losing to USF 47-30 at the end of the regular 2008 season.
It was USF's first win over SXU in the last four meeting, which includes two in 2010. SXU did play without starting QB Jimmy Coy, who still suffering concussion symptoms and unable to play. Coy was forced to leave in SXU's first series at Trinity International last Saturday and didn't return.
USF Head Coach Kevin Donley offered this rebuttal.
"Well we have three of our four guys in the secondary out from last year," Donley said emphatically. " We had guys step up. Kory Stamps, Cale Tabler, Allen Richardson all made big plays in our secondary tonight. We're missing Erick Humphrey, we lost Tracy Hathaway for the season in the second game of the season, We've been without Antoine Galloway."
Miller, making just his fifth start in his career at QB, was 11-for-14 for 137 yards before leaving with an apparent ankle injury after USF's first series in the third quarter. He scored USF's first TD putting the Cougars ahead 6-0 on a 9-yard run in the first quarter. Antoin Campbell scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter giving USF a 13-0 lead with 12:14 to play and USF took a 19-0 lead when Miller connected with Kevin Bush for a 3-yard TD, Bush with a full-extension snag for his first collegiate score.
SXU put together its only TD drive of the game near the end of the first half getting on the scoreboard with 51 seconds to play when Nick Pesek weaved his way to the touchdown from the USF 18-yard line.
Spencer Nolan kicked field goals of 23 and 22 yards in the third quarter inching SXU within six points, 19-13, heading into the final 15 minutes.
Miller sustained his injury at the end of USF's first possession of the second half when he was sacked. Yoder got picked off on his first series, but he bounced back when needed most directing USF to the Smith TD on a time-consuming 13-play, 84-yard drive that started late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter - five minutes, 38 seconds.
SXU had three more possessions after the ‘Roommate Connection', but the USF defense kept the Cougars out of the end zone. Richardson, who stifled SXU in the first half picking off quarterback Joe Gill in the end zone, batted away a third and eight pass for a 3-and-out. After a 56-yard Colin Karman punt, SXU's Wes Gastel grabbed a pass from Gill, but Stamps bone-jarring hit set the football free and he recovered Gastel's fumble with 5:26 to play. After a 38-yard Karman punt, SXU had the ball for 14 plays and moved from its 15 to the USF 33, but Stamps, Richardson, Justin Juarez and Cale Tabler made plays in the secondary to end any hope for the only team to hold the No. 1 ranking this season.
Gill was playing in place of Coy and the left-hander gun-slinger finished 28-for-59 passing for 301 yards. He was sacked twice - once by Juarez and Bush, and the second by Zach Bruce for a loss of seven yards on the final SXU possession of the game. SXU did win the total offense battle with 416 yards to USF's 391 while USF had 158 yards rushing to SXU's 115. USF finished with 233 yards passing. Miller and Yoder combined to complete 69 percent of their passes - 18-for-26.
Juarez finished with a USF -leading 14 tackles, five solo, a pass breakup and 1.5 tackles-for-loss for one yard. Rush had seven solo tackles, 11 total, and he returned his first quarter interception 39 yards. USF didn't scored when Miller was stopped a yard short of the end zone when USF went for the six.
Campbell rushed 23 times for 71 yards while Miller ran 13 times for 60 yards. Akiem Kelsaw led USF receiving with seven receptions for 93 yards including a critical catch for 23 yards and a first down on USF's final scoring drive. Aaron Knight had two receptions for 46 yards, Austin Coleman three for 30 yards. Yoder finished 7-for-12 passing for 96 yards with one pick.
USF has next Saturday off before returning to action at current No. 2-ranked Marian University in Indianapolis on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m.